Pumpkin butter is a pumpkin prize
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I have a lot of pumpkins. At least, it seems to me like I have a lot of pumpkins. When I last looked, there were more than a dozen orange spheres nestled in the little patch of ground I'd originally set aside for pumpkins, beans, peppers and watermelon.
I'd really intended to grow just a few that I might convert into a few pies, then let my son carve one into a jack-o'-lantern toward the end of October. But the pumpkins took over and choked out nearly everything else around them.
My pumpkins thrived, but I had no real plan for them. Seriously, how many pumpkin pies can one man eat?
So, I started looking into recipes for pumpkins. Then I remembered buying a jar of pumpkin butter at a festival someplace. With a couple of recipes I found, I figured I could spare a couple to experiment on, and if I lost a few pumpkins, well, who cares?
Pumpkin butter turns out to be insultingly easy to make.
Before you get started, you need to pick your pumpkins. You want small- to medium-size pumpkins. For a typical batch, I use two, both slightly smaller than volleyballs, and you want to use a pumpkin variety that's grown for pies instead of for carving. These smaller pumpkins have more flesh.
Wash and remove any debris (nobody likes the smell of roasting fertilizer) from the pumpkins, and then use a sharp, heavy knife to trim off the stem.
Very carefully, cut the pumpkins down the middle and divide in half.
This is a pretty good time to go ahead and heat an oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is warming up, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp. You can save the seeds, if you want to roast or to replant later, but it's no shame to just dump the slimy mess into the trash.
Once you've removed the seeds, place the pumpkin halves flat side down on a large baking pan and place them in the oven. You can wait until the oven is heated, but the pumpkins don't seem to care one way or the other.
The roasting takes about 45 minutes. Feel free to go do something else, but check in with them every 15 minutes or so. You want the pumpkins to go from being hard shells to soft, saggy shells, but don't let them burn.
After the pumpkins have roasted, remove them from the oven, place them on a counter, turn off the oven and let them cool for a couple of hours.
When the pumpkins are cooled, simply flip them over in the pan, grab a spoon and dig the pumpkin flesh out and deposit the stuff in a big bowl. Discard the skins.
I use a potato masher to break up the pumpkin flesh into a chunky mass, then begin scooping the stuff into my blender (you also may use a food processor).
Fill the blender to about half full and hit the puree button. You want to break down the consistency of the pumpkin into something fine and smooth, like soft butter, but this can take awhile, and you should keep an eye on your blender or food processor. It can tax your kitchen appliance's motor.
As the pumpkin is converted to the right texture, add it to your Crock-Pot, and then repeat with the remaining pumpkin until it's all in the Crock-Pot.
To the pumpkin add two cups of sugar, a tablespoon of cinnamon, a half-tablespoon each of cloves and nutmeg and a couple of dashes of salt. Mix thoroughly.
Place the lid on the Crock-Pot, but leave it slightly ajar to allow moisture to escape. Set your Crock-Pot on low, then find something else to do for a couple of hours.
You should check back only every few hours; just stop by, take the lid off and stir the pot. Take periodic taste tests (use a clean spoon every time). Add sugar, cinnamon or cloves to taste (some people like a sweeter pumpkin butter, others want a little more bite).
After six to eight hours, the pumpkin butter should be very thick, turn off the Crock-Pot, cover and allow to cool.
When it's a comfortable temperature, move to jars and distribute to friends and relatives or place in containers and freeze.
The pumpkin butter has a refrigerator life of around 10 days. Unfortunately, the USDA says not to bother with canning pureed pumpkin or pumpkin butter. Among other things, the varied viscosity of the pumpkin makes it unreliable to establish guidelines for safe canning, and if you give some home-canned pumpkin butter, you could inadvertently be giving a jar of life-altering bacteria.
The stuff you buy in the stores or is made in bulk by professional canners is apparently safe because they use equipment not usually available to the home canner.
Still, the pumpkin butter freezes fine, and any of it you give away probably won't last a full week, let alone 10 days.
It's pretty amazing on a toasted English muffin.
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5195.